Greenhouse Canada

Features Business Retail
Lessons from FICO Eataly World

May 1, 2018  By John Stanley

FICO Eataly display J. Stanley

We are all aware that retailing is changing and changing rapidly. The key to success is to identify where your business fits into the retail model of the future.

With consumers changing their shopping habits and making fewer “Get Missions” and more “Discovery Missions” retailers today must identify which of the three key positions in the marketplace they want to position themselves at.

The three positions are:
1. Price, which tends to be led by everyday low price retailers rather than discount stores
2. Convenience, which is being slowly dominated by online retailing and especially by Amazon
3. Experience, where the consumer visits a “Bricks “ retailer on a journey of discovery


The majority of “Bricks” retailers need to own the experience marketplace where customers come on their journey of discovery. It means no longer “processing” customers but more time talking to them. It also means that many retailers will fail due to not being able to develop an experience for their customers, often because they are too product driven and product focused, rather than being sufficiently customer experience focused.

Retailing in the future needs a blend between product focus and experience focus.

It was with this in mind I visited a new experience located in Bologna, Italy. FICO an ‘edutainment’ park privately owned by Eataly Srl, Coop Alleanza 3.0 Soc. Coop. and Coop Reno Scarl.

FICO is the world’s largest Agri-Food park, it covers two hectares, has 40 farming factories and 45 restaurants/eating locations, and 150 retailers selling and promoting local produce.

The park is designed so local farmers and artisans can promote, educate and sell. Not every business can invest the amount of money and time that has gone into this experience, but every business can learn from this experience and adapt it to their own business model.

Among the many take away points I had were the following:

• The consumer today is looking for a local expert in-store as they become more inclined to be “Discovery” shoppers than “Mission” shoppers. This means the stories and solutions a retailer offers are important to the overall development of their business. FICO employs biodiversity ambassadors that can escort the visitor through the journey.
What impressed me was the knowledge of their ambassadors. The ambassador who took us around knew the local stories and could explain how to prepare meals based on the ingredients on offer. This highlighted how your team members are your business’s ambassadors and how important they are in any experiential store to help develop the in-store experience.

• Experiences have to constantly change. I visited FICO in February and the theme of the month was based on apples, each month the theme changes and therefore the theatre in-store changes. In apple season the guests actually walk through an arch of apples at the entrance. The consumer is guaranteed a different experience each month.

• Education is also part of the new game rules in retailing. FICO produces an “Experience Catalog” which promotes “Learn the Art”. This catalogue offers short courses, never more than one hour in length on local crafts, these include “How to Make Cheese”, “Farm to Steak”, “Making Pasta”, “Passion for Rice” and “Fruit becomes Sorbet”. All are topics that would be of interest to their target consumer.

• Keep to your values. FICO has very strong values which revolve around being local and promoting local stories based on Italian food. 149 of the exhibitors I saw lived the journey. However one retailer was selling pineapples and bananas from Costa Rico. When I challenged him he told me that customers asked for these fruits and he felt that he should therefore sell it. In discussions with senior management of FICO we agreed that this was not part of the Value Statement, the message is do not let one individual alter the values for the whole team as it will affect the impression and brand of the whole organization.

• Include children and ensure you are providing an interactive experience for them. At FICO, children are encouraged to place seeds in a Rockwool cube and place them in a hydroponic growing zone. Before they place their cube in the growing unit, they can take a picture and place it on the FICO designated Phone App so they can follow their individual seed from seed to seedling to plant to harvest. This engages them in the whole experience and again encourages them to return to FICO.

I visited FICO in the last week of February during a very cold period when it was snowing in Bologna. Our visit was three months after FICO had opened and up to that date FICO had received one million visitors since its opening in November. I and my wife stayed until 7:00 in the evening and attended one of the presentations. Over 150 people filled the theatre for the presentation; this is a testament to a business that provides a target experience.

What is the lesson for Garden Centres in Canada?
Garden centres have an important role to play in the new retail scene. They are one of the few retail environments that can provide an experience for the whole family and their appeal can attract all the generations, few other retailers have this opportunity.

To be successful they must develop the experience for the consumer, this often means more consumer “Gathering” places and less product space in store.

I believe we are going to see more interactive garden centres in the coming years. This is already happening and companies such as Terra in Toronto, Chladeks in Prague and Aster Garden Centre in Russia have already identified these opportunities.

John Stanley is a retail business coach, consultant, speaker and author. His expertise is in customer-focused layout, merchandising, marketing and branding, and customer-focused selling and service. Visit his website at

Print this page


Stories continue below